Fulbright-Hays Scholarship Recipient Profile: William Thornberry

William Thornberry reflects on his semester on the Eurasian Regional Language Program in Dushanbe as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient and his experience of spring in Dushanbe.

After four months of chilly weather, the temperature in Dushanbe has thawed to a perfect 60 to 70 degrees on average. In addition to continuing to improve our Persian, the students of the ERLP have been taking advantage of the great weather to enjoy all that Tajikistan has to offer.

Last weekend on a beautiful Sunday we drove up to the hills outside Dushanbe to watch buzkashi, one of the most exciting traditional sports of Central Asia. Buzkashi, which in Persian literally means “goat-pulling”, consists of horse-mounted players attempting to capture a beheaded goat carcass and place it in a goal. In the match we watched over one hundred players in fierce competition to capture the goat and win prizes. Buzkashi is a tough and physical sport in which the players have to reach down from their horses to pick up a goat weighing around 100 pounds at the same time that they are being whipped and beaten by other players. Among the buzkashi fans, the atmosphere is festive and lively. Families around us were cooking pots of osh, the national food of Tajikistan, and cheering for their friends out on the field.

This coming week will be Nowrooz, which marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. Nowrooz, which in Persian literally means “new day,” is a 3000-year-old holiday with Zorastrian roots. Right now, there is a festive mood in the city as preparations for Nowrooz are underway. Last week at American Councils the ERLP students celebrated Nowrooz` with Tajik students from the FLEX program, who have returned from studying for a year in the United States. Students performed traditional Tajik dances and recited Persian poetry related to Nowrooz. There were also various traditional Nowrooz games and musical performances. One of my classmates and I gave a speech describing the “haft sin” table. The “haft sin” refers to an array of traditional symbols of Nowrooz that all begin with the Persian letter س. One of our teachers helped us arrange the table and during the program we spoke about the symbolism of each item which related to themes of rebirth, health, and revitalization. After the program and dancings, we enjoyed delicious osh plov. Having read and studied about Nowrooz in a classroom setting both back home in the U.S. and also with our instructors in Dushanbe, it was special for me to be able to experience this holiday in person. This week we have classes off and are looking forward to celebrating with our host families, attending Nowrooz events around the city, and possibly doing some traveling around Tajikistan. Going forward in the semester, I’m excited to continue making progress learning Persian and continuing to explore Tajikistan.

About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils

American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.

About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad

The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.

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